Dr Cathy Sly shares teaching activities for Investigating point of view - English Stage 3, English Stage 4
An intriguingly humorous and subversive picture book by Joy Sorman and Olivier Tallec (translated by Sarah Klinger), ‘Blob:The Ugliest Animal in the World’, is the tale of a rather unusual creature that wins the annual contest for the ugliest animal in the world. The visual and verbal narrative reveals Blob’s tenacity as he travels once again from his home in the depths of the ocean off the coast of Australia. His mission is to compete for the third time in the worldwide contest, hoping to be victorious this year.
Although this text lends itself to analysis using a wide range of English textual concepts, in part two of this teaching resource the tale of Blob’s rise to fame will focus on the concept of point of view. Explicit teaching of this concept can help to clarify and distinguish it from the previously discussed concept of perspective. By applying an understanding of point of view to the focus text, students can be encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of both the concept and the text.
Apart from its value as a multimodal text for English studies, ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’could provide an engaging springboard for studies in the biology strand of the science curriculum.
Suggestions for using this resource
Initially the explicit teaching of selected English textual concepts will enable students to understand the aspects they are looking for in the text. The English textual concepts, perspective and point of view, are often confused. Subsequently, it is important to explain and demonstrate their differences and functions by focusing on point of view in this SPaRK.
Point of view
Unlike perspective, which relates to ‘how’ a story is being conveyed and received, point of view relates to ‘who’ is telling a story? That is, it creates the position from which the subject matter is delivered. Point of view may be expressed through a narrator, character, or different characters.
Understanding point of view at different stages of learning:
Students understand that the narrator is different from the composer and that point of view positions the responder in a particular way.
They learn that
- a narrator may be inside or outside the story, in fiction and non-fiction texts
- point of view can create a more personal or distant relationship with the responder, evoking degrees of empathy or indifference
- composers choose the way stories are told, including character(s) through whom stories may be focalised
- point of view is shaped by language choices (for example, camera work, editing, voice over, framing, first person, third person etc.) in different modes and media.
- Analyse how text structures and language features work together to meet the purpose of a text (ACELY1711)
- Identify and explain characteristic text structures and language features used in imaginative, informative and persuasive texts to meet the purpose of the text (ACELY1701).
Students understand that choice of point of view and focalisation shapes the meanings, the values and the effect of the text.
They learn that
- a narrator can tell a story, comment on a story or break out from the story to address the responder, directly
- point of view and focalisation are devices for persuading point of view and focalisation direct the responder to the values in the text.
- Compare the ways that language and images are used to create character, and to influence emotions and opinions in different types of texts (ACELT1621)
- Analyse how point of view is generated in visual texts by means of choices, for example gaze, angle and social distance (ACELA1764).
Prior to reading ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’ again, ask students to recall their notions of ugliness and beauty in relation to creatures in the animal kingdom.
Teachers who wish to evoke deeper thinking might ask students where their perceptions have come from (various texts, experiences, other peoples’ ideas, images, etc.) which provides appropriate links to the ‘making connections’ aspects of the ‘Super Six’ comprehension strategies.
Depending on the number of books available, this text can be read aloud to the class or read in small groups. As the images form an important part of the narrative, they need to be studied closely. Many of the images are available digitally in an article on the book by Maria Popova and could be used for whole class analysis.
The composers of ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’ employ irony and satire to create humour. They present less known and less favoured members of the animal kingdom as contestants in an annual event to find the ugliest animal in the world. By subverting the notion of beauty pageants, the composers influence readers to alter their perspective about these so called ‘ugly’ animals and to question notions of ugliness. Although the animals are anthropomorphised and the narrative is fictional, all of the intriguing animals mentioned in the story actually exist and are worthy of further research from a scientific perspective.
Image source: BrainPickings
Focusing on point of view
The story of Blob is, for the most part, told by an omniscient narrator. Students could be asked to speculate on the possible role of the narrator, for example: a storyteller, a journalist, a scientist, a member of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, or a friend or relation of Blob. They would need to justify their suggestion using verbal and/or visual information from the text.
The inclusion of quotations from other commentators offers some different voices and points of view. Students could look for these quotations and identify the speakers and the point of view of each.
- A member of the jury who referred to Blob as, ‘more darling and adorable than ugly and repulsive’. (p.17)
- Blob: ‘But this year will be different … This year I am going to win.’ (p.17)
- The master of ceremonies. (see p.21)
- The president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. (see p.22)
Point of view in the visual text
While the visual text generally supports points of view expressed in the verbal track, there are times when it extends the verbal information and times when it undermines the verbal track. Ask students to investigate the images closely to discover how the illustrator displays:
- ugly creatures
- members of the judging panel
- beauty and ugliness
- loneliness and sadness.
Anthropomorphism, irony and satire
In ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’ the composers make use of anthropomorphism, irony and satire to communicate their message in a humorous manner.
Anthropomorphism means giving human qualities to non-human creatures or
objects. Much of our understanding about animals is derived from literature encountered as children and beyond and, as Richard Tapper argues, ‘Sometimes certain animals are idealized and used as models of order and morality, in animal stories and myths … By contrast animals are sometimes represented as the Other, the Beast, the Brute, the model of disorder or the way things should not be done’ (cited in Baker, 2001, p. 83).
Students could be asked to consider what affect the anthropomorphising of ugly animals has on a reader?
David Herman suggests that animal guises can operate metaphorically and allegorically by ‘mapping human traits onto nonhuman animals and thereby staging, more or less obliquely, conflicts and problems in the human domain’ (Herman, 2012, p. 96).
Students could be asked to consider what affect the anthropomorphising of ‘ugly’ animals has in relation to a reader’s perception of beauty pageants and competitions based on culturally constructed notions of beauty?
Irony involves conflict between what words/images appear to convey and what they actually mean in a particular context.
Satire involves the use of elements such as exaggeration, humour, parody, irony, sarcasm or ridicule to expose, denounce and deride folly or vice in human nature and institutions.
(Adapted from NSW Education Standards Authority, English K-10, Glossary)
By using the idea of an annual contest to select the ‘ugliest’ animal in the world, the creators of this narrative use situational irony to create an event that is opposite to a reader’s expectations. Satire occurs as the tale parodies beauty contests and generates humour by focusing on animals deemed to be quite unpleasant creatures. By challenging expectations the composers make us aware of some of the strange and diverse animals that share our world and, at the same time, prompt us to question our notions of beauty and ugliness.
Ask students to select an illustration relating to Blob’s world tour after he has won the contest (pp. 24-33). Get students to note any aspects of the illustration that can be said to be ironic or satirical and to explain why. (This activity could be done individually or in small groups. Findings can be presented to the class.)
Student research activity:
The chart below lists many of the creatures mentioned in the text.
Find these other ugly creatures and add them to the chart.
- Lake Titicaca Frog
- Naked Mole Rat
- Probiscis Monkey
- Sea Pig
- Starnosed Mole
- Vietnamese Leaf-nosed Bat
Research one of these creatures. Imagine you are a member of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. Create a story, scientific report, or journal article that persuades readers to view your creature from a favourable perspective. (This could be an oral, written, or multimodal presentation.)
Suggestions for composing
- The final two pages of the story show Blob at home having returned to the ocean floor. From Blob’s point of view, tell a story he might be telling the fish and the young Blobs about his experience as the ugliest animal in the world. (This could be an oral, written, or multimodal presentation.)
- From your point of view, was Blob a good ambassador for the Ugly Animal Preservation Society? Why or why not? Imagine you are a journalist reviewing Blob’s year as the ugliest animal in the world. (This could be an oral, written, or multimodal presentation.)
- Imagine you are a member of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. Create a brochure or webpage that explains the purpose of the society and persuades others to take an interest in your mission to save these lesser known creatures of the world.
References and further reading
Baker, S. (2001). Picturing the beast. New York: Manchester University Press.
Curriculum K-12. (2010). Super Six comprehension strategies. Teaching comprehension strategies, pp.5-6. Taken from the Focus on Reading 3–6program. © State of New South Wales through the NSW Department of Education and Training.
Herman, D. (2012). Toward a zoonarratology. In M. Lehtimäki, L. Karttunen & M. Mäkelä (Eds.), Narrative, interrupted: The plotless, the disturbing and the trivial in literature. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Optics 4 kids. (2019). The Optical Society.
Sly, C. (2019). SPaRK - Blob: The ugliest animal in the world. Part 1. Scan, 38(4).
Sorman, J. & Tallec, O. (2017). Blob: The ugliest animal in the world, New York: Enchanted Lion Books.
Watt, S. (2013). Uglies are the spice of life. National Science and Engineering Competition and the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, UK.
Watt, S. (2013). The ugly animals are coming! National Science and Engineering Competition and the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, UK.
How to cite this article – Sly, C. (2019). SPaRK - Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World. Part 2. Scan, 38(4).